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The Downfall of a Statesman

Six-Term Indiana Senator Loses GOP Primary

Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Six-term Sen. Dick Lugar lost Indiana’s GOP primary Tuesday night. The former Foreign Relations chairman’s defeat was not unexpected — a lackluster campaign and residency problems ultimately doomed the 80-year-old.

Dick Lugar spent almost his entire Senate career trying to make the world safer from the specter of nuclear war.

But as it turned out on Tuesday night, Indiana Republicans werenít motivated to vote for the longtime statesmanís foreign policy bona fides, and he lost his partyís nomination to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock by about 20 points.

Indeed, the two-time Foreign Relations chairmanís devotion to an issue that had its peak in the í80s and í90s seemed to only fuel the narrative that he was out of touch both at home and in Washington, D.C.  

ďHe didnít evolve,Ē one Senate Republican aide said. ďWhen you donít evolve in politics, you die. You have to always figure out if youíre on the leading edge. This is the major leagues. You canít just fake your way through a Senate election.Ē

Yet it may be that Lugarís ultimate downfall wasnít that he hadnít been playing the game right but that in recent years he didnít seem to be playing the game at all.

In this Congress, the 80-year-old has spoken on the Senate floor for only 31 minutes over two legislative days, according to C-SPAN. By contrast, Sen.
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also facing a primary this cycle, spent 18 hours on the floor over 61 days.

In fact, Lugar hasnít clocked double-digit hours in floor speeches since the 107th Congress ó a decade ago. And in Republicansí weekly caucus luncheon, he isnít often a vocal participant ó  although no one disputes that he has the wide respect of nearly all of his colleagues.

This wouldnít have mattered in previous cycles such as 2006, when Lugar was the only GOP Senator without a general election opponent. But the national political landscape changed, and Lugar didnít.

Twelve years ago, Lugar won re-election with the simple slogan: ďThe experience to do more.Ē A mantra like that wouldnít have the same appeal to voters today, especially in a tea-party-driven GOP primary.

ďItís a bit of a tragedy for him that, for all his accomplishments in foreign policy, theyíre not on the front burner right now.Ē said Brad Todd, who was Lugarís media consultant in 2000. ďBut elections are not about what have you done for me lately, but what you are going to do for me tomorrow.Ē

Dwindling Prestige

Just days before the Senate held a dramatic Christmas Eve vote in 2009 on President Barack Obamaís signature health care bill, Lugar delivered a passionate floor speech ó on preventing nuclear proliferation.

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